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Living Fences and Breaking Barriers – My Tilth Experience

Posted by Jason Jacobson | February 17, 2017

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

My name is Jason Jacobson, and I am an Organic Agriculture Systems major at Washington State University.  Through the generous sponsorship efforts of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR), I was able to attend the 2016 Seattle Tilth Conference in Wenatchee, Washington.

The farm tour proved to be one of my favorite events of the weekend, specifically the Gibbs Organic Farm, where permaculture and livestock integration played a major role in their operation, and the multiple enterprises on site served as a model and an inspiration to a new farmer like me. Additionally, the farm tour visited a compost operation, run by the Stemilt Fruit Company, which provided amazing insight into large-scale composting and some of the real-world challenges associated with it.

Back at the convention center, the Hedgerow Agro-Ecology workshop (presented by Eric Lee-Mäder of the Xerces Society) was by far my favorite event. Eric’s talk was very informative and illustrated the relationship between habitat availability and proximity, to beneficial pollinator activity. Landscape complexity also plays a large role in the increased populations of beneficial insects. Eric pointed out that not only do pest populations not increase when hedgerows are utilized, the 10-year return on investment (ROI) shows that hedgerows provide a substantial “biological bang for the buck.” The traditional building techniques were explained and, along with the images presented, I feel the audience came away with a good understanding of how hedgerows are built, and some (such as myself) left feeling moderately confident that they could build one. The concept of living fences that, at one point in history could stop armored tanks, ties in very nicely to permacultural and agroecological concepts which revolve around long-term, perennial productivity. These concepts and practices are of great interest to me, as they have yet to become a significant part of formal agricultural education, and more dissemination of these alternative production and management options should help to strengthen agriculture as a whole.

Ultimately, I think the most rewarding part of attending the Tilth Alliance Conference, was the chance I had to get to know fellow students, both undergraduate and graduates. Many of us see each other in the same buildings or classes but rarely do we have much time to talk about our interests in the context of what we are studying. We were fortunate, and very grateful, for the home-cooked meal and hospitality of the Mendez family on Saturday night. The casual atmosphere allowed us to talk about agriculture without citing references or worrying about sentence structure, instead we were able to see that most of us, no matter how varied the fields of study, are more alike than we are different when it comes to working on solutions to food system problems.